Penal Populism and Children of Imprisoned Parents

  • Peter Scharff Smith
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology book series (PSIPP)


Since prisoners’ families — perhaps especially prisoners’ children — can be severely affected by the use of imprisonment, and since this area has suffered from a remarkable lack of awareness historically, it is obvious to ask whether and to what degree there is currently political focus on prisoners’ children. The answer to this question is ambiguous. On the one hand, the amount of research into the effects of parental imprisonment has grown significantly during recent years, and the UN, the human rights system and various NGOs have afforded prisoners’ children much more attention. In some countries, the issue has also gained political attention and practical support from reform-oriented prisons and prison services. I argue that this is the case in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. But on the other hand, the general political climate surrounding punishment and crime has become increasingly problematic for prisoners’ children in many countries during the last couple of decades. Penal policy internationally has moved towards tougher sentencing, zero-tolerance, harsher prison conditions and growing prison populations. This chapter shows how this penal populism can harm prisoners’ children severely, even in a Scandinavian welfare state like Denmark.


Prison Population Prison Sentence Penal Populism Parental Imprisonment Public Sentiment 
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    See, for example, “Får eller Ulve”, Tidskrift utgiven av Juridiska Föreningen i Finland 3–4 (2004); Greve 2010;Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Sara Wakefield and Christopher Wildeman, Children of the Prison Boom: Mass Incarceration and the Future of American Inequality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Peter Scharff Smith 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Scharff Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Danish Institute for Human RightsDenmark

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